Rudy Garcia-Tolson is an inspiration to those who witness his personal achievements. Born with pterygium syndrome, which causes malformations in the limbs and a cleft palate, he became a bilateral above-knee amputee at age 5. A year later, his parents introduced him to swimming as therapy.
His competitive nature drove him to join an able-bodied swim team. “I wanted to prove myself, to beat these kids with legs,” he says. “When I was swimming, it gave me confidence in the pool and life in general. ... When someone [says] you can’t do something, you want to work hard and prove them wrong.”
That he did. At 27, the three-time Paralympian holds two gold medals, one silver and a bronze. This summer, he heads to Rio for his fourth appearance and has his sights set on Tokyo in 2020.
Garcia-Tolson has completed several triathlons and was the first bilateral above-knee amputee to finish an Ironman in 2009.
He spreads his message of perseverance and determination at schools, corporate events and other functions. As an advocate of the Challenged Athletes Foundation, he has helped raise more than $25 million.